Explore the Library

Short Tour—The grok Approach

by | Jan 5, 2013

This article presents a brief summary of the ideas and principles presented in Discovering the Soul of Your Story, Part One—The grok Approach. 

The Big Picture

Plot derives from character, not the other way around. In every well-told story, the action revolves around a core ensemble of central characters who perform the primary functional roles that advance the story and give it emotional heft.

The Role of the Main Character

Of all the characters in the core ensemble, one is more important than the others and occupies the special role of main character.

The main character performs four major tasks in the telling of the story. Specifically, she:

  • serves as a vehicle through which the audience member can ride along and experience the world of the story;
  • generates the story events by means of her intents and actions;
  • provides the audience with an indicator of story progress; and
  • expresses the theme of the story by means of her decisions, actions, and ultimate success or failure.

Intents vs. Wants

The motivations of the main character are best described not in terms of what she wants, but in terms of what she intends. Wants are static and do not require action. Intents demand action and prompt the main character to pursue the satisfaction of the wants.

Types of Intent

The overall journey of the main character in any story is best described in terms of a type of intent and treasure. The type of intent can be expressed in one of three ways—to:

  • gain a treasure that has never before existed;
  • regain a treasure that existed at one time but was lost, taken away, or destroyed; or
  • keep a treasure that currently exists and is under threat of being lost, taken away, or destroyed.

The type of intent determines the direction of the story and the means by which the audience will gauge its progress. It also clarifies the underlying motivations of the main character, establishes the plausibility of events, promotes consistency in character actions, reveals the story time frame of concern, and helps define points of structural reference.

The storyteller can identify the main character by performing a simple thought experiment to find the treasure the magical granting of which will stop the story in its tracks. And the thought experiment can also be extended to determine the type of intent for the main character by assessing her feelings upon receipt of the magical gift.

The Nature of Treasures

All treasures are subjective and each is defined strictly according to the main character with whom it is associated. The significance ascribed to any treasure might align with a sense of conventional worth but is not required to do so.

Some treasures are external and observable by any spectator of the story world; others are internal and can only be inferred from the behaviors of the main characters who possess them.

Most treasures are associated with outer goals that stem from inner goals. The outer goal for any main character illustrates her tangible target; the inner goal represents the feeling that she anticipates possessing if she succeeds in her attempt to attain the outer goal—or fears possessing if she fails. We-the-audience look to the outer goals to gauge story progress. We use the inner goals to judge the story with respect to its meaning and theme.

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